Old-fashioned nuns say the past is key to the future | National Catholic Reporter

Old-fashioned nuns say the past is key to the future | National Catholic Reporter.

Kudos to the National Catholic Reporter for publishing this article by David Gibson of the Religion News Service. Gibson gives a peek into one of the more traditional religious orders and the young women who are entering them. Sadly, you can’t avoid noticing the judgmental attitude among some of the women interviewed; an ‘us-them’ attitude.

Ideological differences among Catholics are usually divided into the old left-right, progressive-conservative dichotomy. The differences are apparent whenever a discussion takes place on modern day religious life. Interestingly, it seems to focus more on women’s religious orders rather than their male counter-parts.

Young women who embrace the habit and cloistered life are the standard bearers for Catholic conservatives. The women of more active, apostolic orders such as those of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) are the inspirational heroes of the progressives. The former focus on faithfulness to prayer, doctrine and traditions of the past. The latter focuses on gospel action through works of social justice.

Catholicism has always offered many paths towards holiness. The diversity of spiritualities and charisms found in our religious orders is one of our greatest gifts. It reflects our human reality. One person might find deep peace in a life structured around hours of prayer in a chapel. Another might find the same peace in the midst of the inner city. If a woman or man is called to religious life, there is a smorgasbord of life-styles to choose from.

Different is good. Why can’t we see difference side by side….different but equal. Why do we always have to place one above the other? Why do we always have to rationalize our own choice by demeaning and criticizing the choice of another?

sr. pat farrell’s strategy for dialogue in the church

The women of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) have shown a remarkable dignity since the release of the Vatican assessment in April. While media, commentaries and discussion boards screamed with anger and displeasure at the bishops, the LCWR leadership waited until their annual Assembly to dialogue with its membership before giving an official response. The National Catholic Reporter has many in-depth reports, news stories, and commentaries from the Assembly, which took place last week.

I’ve been following the LCWR story closely for two reasons. First of all, out of love and respect for the many religious women I know. Secondly, I believe the issue of dialogue is vital to healing the present division; not only between the LCWR and the Vatican, but within the church as a whole. The need for dialogue out of a place of respect and mutual trust is obvious. Many believe that it is impossible, since the two parties are coming from such seemingly opposing views and philosophies.

Sr. Pat Farrell, now past-president of the LCWR, is optimistic. Her Presidential Address to the Assembly, Navigating the Shifts, provides a practical and hopeful model for entering into an effective conversation with the bishops. It is both insightful and inspiring, and I encourage you to read it in its entirety. In answer to the question “How can we navigate these shifts?” she responds with six tools. She believes these tools “have served us through centuries of religious life are, I believe, still a compass to guide us now.”

THROUGH CONTEMPLATION… In situations of impasse, it is only prayerful spaciousness that allows what wants to emerge to manifest itself. We are at such an impasse now. Our collective wisdom needs to be gathered. It germinates in silence, as we saw during the six weeks following the issuing of the mandate from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. We wait for God to carve out a deeper knowing in us.

WITH A PROPHETIC VOICE… There is no guarantee, however, that simply by virtue of our vocation we can be prophetic. Prophecy is both God’s gift as well as the product of rigorous asceticism. Our rootedness in God needs to be deep enough and our read on reality clear enough for us to be a voice of conscience.

THROUGH SOLIDARITY WITH THE MARGINALIZED… Vulnerable human beings put us more in touch with the truth of our limited and messy human condition, marked as it is by fragility, incompleteness, and inevitable struggle. The experience of God from that place is one of absolutely gratuitous mercy and empowering love.

THROUGH COMMUNITY… We have effectively moved from a hierarchically structured lifestyle in our congregations to a more horizontal model. It is quite amazing, considering the rigidity from which we evolved. The participative structures and collaborative leadership models we have developed have been empowering, lifegiving. These models may very well be the gift we now bring to the Church and the world.

NON-VIOLENTLY… The breaking down and breaking through of massive paradigm shift is a violent sort of process. It invites the inner strength of a non-violent response. Jesus is our model in this.

BY LIVING IN JOYFUL  HOPE… Joyful hope is the hallmark of genuine discipleship. We look forward to a future full of hope, in the face of all evidence to the contrary. Hope makes us attentive to signs of the inbreaking of the Reign of God.

Two paradigms will gather around the table. One rooted in a hierarchical, authoritarian, and patriarchal style of leadership. The other grounded in a horizontal, collaborative, participatory and communitarian form of life. Both, we would hope, are grounded in prayer. May the Holy Spirit open their minds, ears and hearts to truly listen to the other with love, respect, and mutual trust.

Related story

LCWR’s annual meeting: Some reflections and a little back story by Jamie L. Manson is a first-hand look and reflection from the LCWR Assembly.

LCWR, Cardinal Levada and the dialogue of the deaf

For all who have been following the tale of the doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), today was a big day. LCWR president Franciscan Sr. Pat Farrell and executive director St. Joseph Sr. Janet Mock met in Rome with Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), and Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, the Vatican delegate appointed to oversee the assessment in the US.

The official press releases following the meeting were anti-climactic. The Vatican Press gave an official announcement that reiterated the authority of the Holy See over the sister’s conference, and the role of the CDF in ensuring that the LCWR is in union with the Magisterium. The press release from the LCWR was simple. The sisters were returning to the US to discuss the results of the meeting on regional levels and at their annual assembly in August. No interviews were going to be given.

I was musing on this all day, wondering if there was anything worth writing about. Perhaps all had been said to this point. But something still didn’t seem right. Did any actual dialogue take place? I wrote a blog post for NCR Today, but hesitated sending it in. I kept checking the National Catholic Reporter web-site for more news, and there was nothing. So, I sent off my wee piece. Almost simultaneously, John Allen Jr. posted an interview with Cardinal Levada, the Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Faith. Now here is a story!

The Cardinal describes a `dialogue of the deaf“ with the women of the LCWR. The deafness, he believes, comes from not wholeheartedly embracing the doctrinal assessment of the CDF and accepting the proposals for reform that are being presented to them.

In the short term, Levada said he would take as evidence that things are moving in the right direction if LCWR enters into “a sincere, cordial and open dialogue” with Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle, tapped by the Vatican to oversee the reform envisioned in the doctrinal assessment.

To date, Levada said, that hasn’t happened. 

Cardinal Levada also spoke openly about the possibility of the LCWR cutting their official ties with the Vatican.

So, the LCWR has chosen silence in order to pray, ponder, and dialogue among their membership before any statements or actions are taken. Theirs is a dignified approach. Cardinal Levada, meanwhile, has already put his opinions and musings into the limelight for all to see as if it was a fait accompli. And he has taken a very undignified dig at the sisters with his ‘dialogue of the deaf’ comment.

The story is far from over. My prayers and hopes are with the sisters that they will continue to face this challenge with grace, dignity, and faith in their communal wisdom. As to the deafness in the dialogue…may all ears and hearts be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.